In our last essay we studied 1:18-2:5, which dealt with the “wisdom of God” (1:21): the cross. Having finished his discussion of the wisdom of God as a crucified God, Paul transitions to what I have called “The Wisdom of God: Maturity.” And that brings us to the passage for today, 2:6-16.
Verses 6-9 are full of difficult content. First of all, there is a question about the Greek word teleioi in verse six. The term literally means “perfect ones.” If it is interpreted that way, it means ethical perfection. But most scholars interpret Paul in this context as referring to adult Christians at Corinth in contrast to those whom he calls “infants” in 3:1.
However that is not the crucial issue. The crucial issue is whether Paul was contrasting believers and unbelievers, or mature and immature believers. If he was contrasting believers and unbelievers, then Paul was including the Corinthians, because they were believers. Remember he addressed them at the very beginning of the letter as “those sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1:2). The problem was that they were not acting as if they had the Spirit, even though they did.
On the other hand, if Paul was contrasting mature and immature believers, then he was excluding the Corinthians, because of their immaturity. But in either case the problem is that the Corinthian Christians lacked the perfecting power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore the “secret and hidden wisdom of God” in verse seven is not the already discussed “wisdom of the cross,” the acceptance of which makes one a Christian. Rather he was speaking about the perfecting power of the Spirit that the Corinthians lacked.
Now then, let’s look at several wonderful truths that are found in these verses. First, God imparts a special “wisdom” to the “mature” in Christ (v. 6). Paul quickly informs them that this wisdom that comes from God “is not a wisdom of this age, or of the rulers of this age.” It is wisdom of the Holy Spirit intended only for mature Christians.
Second, this special wisdom is “a secret and hidden wisdom” (v. 7). Literally, the Greek reads, “a wisdom of God in mystery having been hidden.” The word mystery in the New Testament refers to a truth of God that has been hidden until he chooses to reveal it. Therefore this special wisdom of the Spirit is revealed only to mature believers. In other words it is revealed only to those who are filled with the Holy Spirit. And the special content of the revelation is that which Paul has been emphasizing, namely, Christ crucified for our salvation.
Third, this wisdom was part of God’s plan (v. 7). He decreed it, literally “foreordained” it, “before the ages,” meaning that it was part of his plan from the beginning.
Fourth, this wisdom results in the glory of God’s people (v. 7). Indeed God did it for “our glory.” That is, he planned from the beginning to redeem humanity through Christ. And Paul couched the revelation in end-time terms. God didn’t just save us from hell; he saved us to share in God’s own eternal glory.
Finally fifth, it is a wisdom that is not perceived by the unsaved world. If it were, the government rulers of Jesus’ day would not have crucified him (vv. 8-9). They thought they were crucifying a messianic pretender, but in reality they crucified the Lord of glory himself.
As we have seen in other places, Paul gives a quotation to support his argument in verse nine. However, this quotation presents a problem, because it does not appear in the Old Testament. There are a couple of passages from Isaiah (Isa. 64:3 and 65:16) that are similar, but they definitely are not the same. Some have suggested that Paul was quoting poorly by memory, or from an unknown book, or was using a scroll of Isaiah that was different from that generally known. But no one really knows where the quotation came from. Whatever its source, it affirms Paul’s point that this special wisdom is revealed only to those who love God.
In verses 10-11 we once again see that the Holy Spirit is the key to this special wisdom. He “searches everything, even the depths of God,” something no human being can do (v. 10). Then Paul provides an analogy. Just as only a human being can understand what it means to be truly human, only the Holy Spirit can understand the inward truths about God. And the Holy Spirit reveals those truths to mature believers (v. 11). Then Paul declares that it is this revelation by the Spirit that enables us to understand the gifts that God gives us (v. 12).
In verse 13 Paul writes that when he speaks of these gifts, he speaks not in words taught by human wisdom, but in words taught by the Holy Spirit. The last clause presents a bit of a translation problem, because the last word can be taken in three different ways. And the various English translations show that. The NRSV translates the last clause, “interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.” The NIV on the other hand translates it, “expressing spiritual things in spiritual words.” And the RSV and the KJV both translate it, “comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” The latter is the most literal, though all are legitimate. Each of these has a different slant, but all are true. As you can see from the translations, the last word can be interpreted as “spiritual people,” or ”spiritual things,” or it can stand alone.
In verses 14-16 Paul makes an important distinction.. Actually he already has made the distinction, but now he uses language that he did not use before. He already has talked about those who do not have the Holy Spirit and those who do. But now he labels in the Greek those who do not have the Holy Spirit as psychikos, which means “a natural man” (or woman). They are natural men, because they are not, and never have been, believers. They do not accept the things that come from the Holy Spirit. The things of the Spirit are foolishness to them. And they cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.
Those who do have the Spirit he labels pneumatikos, which means a spiritual man.” These are believers who have been filled with the Holy Spirit. They discern all things and are discerned by no one. The NIV translates it, “makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment.” However it is translated, the idea is that the natural man cannot make judgments about the spiritual man. In verse 16 Paul once again quotes the Old Testament to support his argument. This time it is Isa. 40:13. And then he concludes by saying “But we have the mind of Christ.” This suggests that Paul is preparing them for the criticisms that he is going to level against them later in the letter.